During Francis Howell School District’s (FHSD’s) We Love to Code! Week, administrators, teachers, and learning commons specialists encouraged students of all ages to participate in coding activities. Particularly for younger students, the trick is to find a way to get them to relate to this quickly emerging skill. At Fairmount Elementary, they found a way to make coding understandable for kids and parents alike – with a “Star Wars” theme.
On the evening of Feb. 8, there was a disturbance in the force – but in a positive way. Students and parents joined the staff at Fairmount for their technology night, and it was a rousing success. Julie Tiemeyer, the administrative intern at the school, oversees the Technology Committee at Fairmount. When Tiemeyer brought the Star Wars theme to the committee, no one got “a bad feeling about this,” as so many Star Wars characters have throughout the series. As Tiemeyer said, they’re looking for “any way to hook the kids, especially if they can dress up with the theme. So we had a Star Wars dress-up day the day of the event to get students excited.”
If students can associate coding with fun, they are much more likely to take an interest. The focus of this endeavor is not a time long ago, and in a galaxy far, far away, but rather the future of our kids in our community. “The ‘Star Wars’ theme seemed to fit perfectly,” Tiemeyer said. “We have to stay current with our students’ interest. This may change every year depending on what’s popular out there.”
As Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn said in “The Phantom Menace” prequel, “Your focus determines your reality.” And the reality was that many families were focused on attending! “Last year, our tech night brought in five families,” said Tiemeyer. “This year we had over 80 families RSVP, and about 100 families walk through the door.”
Part of the challenge with getting kids to code is the fear of a new technology. But as Yoda said, “Fear is the path to the dark side.” Thanks to the excellent planning by Tiemeyer and the Tech Committee at Fairmount, there was no fear in these students. “Students loved (the evening),” Tiemeyer said, “and teachers said their classrooms were full with students doing activities. Parents liked it, as well – I do know that many families loved our makerspace activities. We look to increase these activities next year, and look forward to bringing in new activities for kids to try.”
“Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, farm boy,” Han Solo said to Luke Skywalker in the original “Star Wars” film. Well, neither is coding. But one has to start somewhere, and there were so many activities at this event – all more fun than dusting crops. “Our makerspace was a hit with coding,” Tiemeyer said. “We had a Google Showcase hallway for students to show off their google work, an app hallway for parents/students to learn about apps they can use at home for learning, and a coding hallway. We also had a community guest speaker for parents, and talked at-home safety. To top it all off, Saeger Middle’s EV3 Robotics Club came to show coding with their Lego robots.” (Yes, those were the droids we were looking for.)
Unlike the films, we won’t have to wait so long for the next tech night. “Our goal for next year is to have some student presentations,” Tiemeyer said, “and add some virtual reality activities. We’d also like to involve Lego building even more. We’d like to have a Tech Night just for parents, as well. We noticed that parents could not really attend the parent sessions because they had to be with their kids at the other activities, so we are working on this.”
The force is strong with Fairmount; and it has a growing force of coders now, too – even if they’re a little shorter than the average storm trooper.